STAFF REVIEW of MVP Baseball 2004 (Xbox)

Sunday, March 28, 2004.
by RichVGS

MVP Baseball 2004 Box art When our parents were growing up, baseball was a sign of simple times when a night at the ballpark would bring the family together and act as the agent for many long lasting memories. Today baseball doesn?t have the same feel. Now it is all about the extreme contracts, attempts to buy championship seasons, building new stadiums; all things that are making Major League Baseball seem more like another Fortune 500 company then a source of happiness and dreams. As we inch closer to the start of the 2004 season, we are now faced with the question of what should happen to players and their records if there is evidence of steroid usage. Let?s face it, the fun is being sucked out of baseball. And while people may not be excited about the new season, game players are pumped for the arrival the new season Baseball video games. With three major contenders desperately trying to win over the fans, the question is who will come out on top? The first contender to hit game store shelves in 2004 is the subject of this review. So, let?s get right down to business and take a look at all the different game modes offered in EA Sports MVP Baseball 2004.

Exhibition Mode

Don?t feel like jumping into a season right away? Want to get a quick feel for the game? Is your season going so bad that you want to try playing with a winner for a change? Then exhibition is the mode for your needs. This mode gives you a chance to play a single game with the rules of your choosing or challenge your best friend to a game. Not sure what skill level you should be playing in? Give all of them a try here. Want some practice before you take on your top rival team? This is the chance to see what that team has in store for your boys. Think of exhibition mode as your way of having batting and pitching practice before the real game begins.

Dynasty Mode

Commit yourself to dynasty mode and you?re committing yourself to 120 consecutive seasons. Okay, not exactly, but you can play 120 consecutive seasons with the team you start with. Like other baseball games, it is your job to take command of a team of your choosing and guide them through the regular season and to the playoffs in the hope of winning the pennant and then the World Series. Along the way you can make changes by editing lineups, signing free agents and making trades (can be set to fair trade mode which will make sure you can?t trade a couple of AA players for the Yankees? starting lineup). While this seems identical to all the other games in town, EA has made sure to add a few new twists to the normal formula.

Not satisfied with the current teams in MVP? Wish that you had some members of the Red Sox, Cardinals, Dodgers and Marlins on your team? You could always attempt to obtain them through free agency or off season trading, but let?s be realistic?it will probably never work out. Your other option is fantasy draft. Begin with an empty roster and go after the players you want (you might want to change the salary options in order to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake). After it?s all said and done, you could end up with half of the Mets and half of the Giants playing under the flag of the Cubs. Anything is possible when you alter the right options.

MVP Baseball, however, is not just about controlling the players. You also act as manager, and with that title comes certain responsibilities. First of those responsibilities is managing the team?s funds. This comes into play more during the off season when players? contracts get ready to expire or when you want to pick up a free agent or two. Within the game options area you can select to have a salary gap or to have unlimited funds (familiar to Yankee fans). So be careful when looking to pick up the heavy hitters, or else you could become like Texas with Alex Rodriguez. Your second responsibility is to make sure your team is happy. When your team is in good spirits, the team will perform better. How do you keep the team happy? First, you have to keep individuals happy. This could mean anything from contract issues, the player is in a slump, or said player isn?t getting enough play time. Also, each game you play has an impact rating (between 1 and 10) and winning the major impact games means happy players. Just remember, you can?t make everyone happy all the time, so focus more on team attitude.

After those two main responsibilities, you and your team are assigned certain goals that the head office would like to see accomplished. These goals can be achieved after a season, or over several seasons. Succeed in these goals, and you will be awarded with throwback uniforms, legendary players and other historical goodies. Based off of the job you do as a manager, how your team performs, and achieving the goals assigned by the head office, you will be given a grade which updates after each game and the decisions you make. When the season ends, will you be an A+ student, or score a big F for failure?

In addition to controlling your favorite Major League Baseball team, you also assume control of that team?s minor league teams. While playing as an AAA or AA team may not seem as cool as controlling a MLB team, it does allow you to develop the players of tomorrow. Have a player in AAA that you want to send to the majors? Simply select the send up/send down player option and bring him up for a chance to impress (of course you?ll have to send a player down to the minors to bring on up). If you?re not sure about a player, you can wait until next season during spring training to decide if he makes the cut. This is also a fun way to punish the players you don?t like (personally, I?d love to send Randy Johnson down to the minors just for the fun of it). In case you have no interest in dealing with the minors, you can just simply simulate all the games and focus solely on the majors.

Another new feature to dynasty mode is the option to manage a game. Tired of schooling the Tigers (sorry Detroit fans), then try your hand at managing against them. Instead of controlling the players, make the necessary calls from the dugout and let the players do the hard work. When coaching your batter, you decide if you want to sacrifice bunt or go for the wall based on the information provided for you, including past meeting between players, current player stats, and percentage of success. You also get similar information when coaching the pitcher. Instead of picking the specific pitches, you advice a plan of attack for your pitcher when dealing with a particular batter (which includes intentional walks and hitting the batter). Careful though. I would only manage a game when it really makes no difference to your chances of making the playoffs. While you maintain some control, you still relay heavily on the computer to win for your team.

Home Run Showdown

Just as the title suggests, this mode is a home run derby game. The difference in MVP is that it is not just about how many of your shots leave the yard. With the new scoring system (and first to get to a preset distance mark), it is more important to hit a few long shots then it is to hit many short hits that just barely make the cut. Measured by feet, it is about total distance, not total shots. Fair hits add distance and homeruns get you both the distance plus a hundred foot bonus. Contrast to that, foul balls subtract distance and strikes cost you a hundred feet per miss. Finally, if you want to make things really interesting simply increase the target distance to the showdown and make only hits equaling or exceeding that distance earn you points. Just another example of how EA will challenge both the beginning and advance baseball video game player.

Pitcher Showdown

Similar to the home run showdown, you first select how many points you wish to play to. You earn one point of each strikeout, and lose a point for each home run or walk. Utilizing the split screen feature for this pitching showdown, it at times even feels like a race to beat one another to the throw, when in reality it is all about taking your time and throwing the right pitches. This is a brand new mode from EA and it is very addictive especially when you get within one or two strikeouts from the goal. In addition to being a great mini game, you can use showdown to finely tune your pitching skills and prepare for up-and-coming opponents (plus a chance to take a few shots at the guys crowding the plate and have it not count against your season).

Scenario Editor

This mode is strictly for the true baseball enthusiast. Ever wanted to be up to bat or pitching in game seven of the World Series, bottom of the ninth inning, bases loaded, an the entire season rests on one person?s shoulders?yours? Well now is your chance with scenario editor. You set up the situation as you want to play it out. You select the teams, the point in the game, the score, the point in the season, etc. Finally you can be the baseball hero you always wanted to be, or relive a real game incident and see if you could do better. This is the ultimate in fantasy baseball and you can be right in the middle of the action.

Now I know what you?re thinking. ?The modes sound cool and all, but what about the controls and gameplay?? True to any sports game, if the controls and gameplay are flawed, then the rest of the game becomes pointless. MVP retains the same pitching and throwing features as last year?s model after the positive reaction that the power/accuracy gage received. Throw too soft from the outfield and the ball will end up rolling into the hands of the first baseman or throw too hard from short right and you could end up overthrowing the third baseman and end up allowing an easily avoidable run. Pitching is much the same. Throw too light and it will seem like you threw a softball, too hard and you?ll throw a wild pitch, and if you miss the accuracy cut, you could throw a home run ball right to a salivating right fielder looking to get closer to Barry Bonds? record.

?So it?s basically the same gameplay, just new modes?? Not at all. While MVP Baseball 2003 was a great improvement over the Triple Play series, EA kept in mind that while controls were much improved, they weren?t perfect yet. The first attempt at improving the formula is the all new ?EA Sports Pure Swing System.? Using the left thumbstick while batting now allows you to control your swing and its outcome. Pushing left or right will cause the batter to pull to the left or right. Pushing up will cause you to hit a fly ball which is where you home run hitters need to aim (of course this causes more outs then homeruns). Pushing down will hit the ball on the ground and count on you to leg it out to get on base. This is the end of the days of getting thirty homeruns by simply hitting the swing button.

Also making its debut is the ?EA Sports Big Play Control.? Using the right thumbstick, you can now take fielding and base running to a whole new level. Running to catch a pop fly? Simply hit left or right on the right thumbstick to either stretch or dive for that out of reach ball, or hit down on the right thumbstick to make a sliding catch. Sounds good so far, but the really cool feature is robbing someone out of a home run by hitting up on the right thumbstick and climbing the wall to make a miraculous catch. Switching gears to baserunning, the right thumbstick will now control how you slide into the base. Sliding to the left or right, jumping slides and hook slides are now all options. In addition, you can charge the catcher and hope to dislodge the ball by hitting up on the right thumbstick when coming home. Just a few ways to add more realism to the game.

Graphically speaking things are looking very sharp. The revamped facial detail is amazing and everyone looks like they?re supposed to. Stadiums are true to life including the surrounding landscape (Busch Stadium in St. Louis has an amazing look at the Arch) and the sights. The fans, however, look flat, too spread out and there is close to no movement in the stands. Also, the fireworks that go off after home runs look like something out of the days of Sega Genesis. But these are minor details when you consider the strength of the whole.

While the crowd looks dead, they certainly don?t sound that way. The crowd will react as you would expect a crowd to in different game situations. Bottom of the ninth and the last away team batter is at the plate, the crowd is cheering the entire time, only cheering louder when you throw a strike and a bit softer if you throw a ball (and should that batter get on base, the cheers will turn to boos). Also the game sounds are very realistic, especially the sound of bats breaking (I?m don?t think Sammy used a practice bat on purpose, but I still raise an eyebrow when he breaks one). Also look for some fun sound details like the occasional announcement over the loud speakers about balls flying into the crowd. The music during the menus is provided by many unknown indie and alternative bands that sound much better then the dribble played on Mtv (although custom soundtracks would have been a nice feature).

For some people, all the good things I have talked about here will fall on deaf ears. Most people have given up on EA because they don?t support Xbox Live and that means no online play or roster updates. Granted, that is a major drawback, but it is about the only drawback that MVP has. All the different modes of play allow you do experience all the different dimensions of baseball, including life in the minor leagues. The gameplay has come a long way in two years since the days of Triple Play Baseball and it has only gotten deeper and more improved. The sights and sounds of the game are nothing less then impressive and blow away what we?ve seen so far in the forthcoming competition. I?m not saying you should run out and buy MVP Baseball 2004 this instant, but if you?re looking for the best baseball game of the year, look no further. Just look past the lack of Live support and see MVP for what it is?simply amazing.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.6 / 10
Visuals: 9.2 / 10
Sound: 9.6 / 10


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